“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, said the Nobel Laurette Rudyard Kipling. Today, we will examine this chasm from the angle of spirituality.
Eastern cultures have typically been regarded by the world as keen sources of spiritual learning. It’s true that Eastern civilizations, particularly in India and China, have spiritual histories dating back thousands of years
Western religions are comparatively modern and, as such, have more intimate solutions for people today.
Eastern cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions are rich in techniques for inner development and self (or God) realization.
And Western cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions have much to offer modern man, particularly in the areas of psychological and emotional growth and the development of society.
Unity in Diversity
Religions and spiritual traditions from both cultures believe in higher intelligence. This is a common factor.
Both cultures also believe in morality as a basis for cultivating spiritual evolution and an evolved society. This is true in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and pretty much every other major religion or spiritual tradition.
The third uniting element between Western and Eastern spirituality is the appreciation of similar values. Lovingness, kindness, non-violence, and not lying or stealing are all highly valued.
There are Commonalities Between Eastern and Western Spirituality, But Also Enormous Differences
One feature of religion and spirituality is that it develops to complement the ordinary consciousness of the general population that it evolves within. That is to say; it aims to complete persons and their society as a whole by providing what is lacking.
Western cultures are highly individualistic. what about Islaam ? that too can be added to the list., Western religions like Christianity and Judaism emphasize the collective aspects of spirituality, like attending churches and synagogues regularly. They encourage selfless service like helping the homeless and other missionary work. The self-centered Westerner can find great meaning in serving others and thinking outside himself for a change.
On the other hand, Eastern cultures are highly collectivist. The population density in these countries makes anything else impossible. Not true when the religions evolved in India or china As such, the individual is lost in a sea of collective consciousness. Eastern religions like Hinduism, therefore, emphasize personal spiritual growth through Yoga, Meditation, and learning sacred texts.
An another point is that ancient religions give more emphasis to attaining Nirvana and to get out of the cycles of birth and death while the western religions look at “do good to be in line for rewards on the day of judgement”. While the principle of Karma, while pointing out the implications of doing good or bad principally talks of getting out of that cycle itself.
Why should Eastern and Western spirituality be the same when their people and societies are not?
East Meets West
What’s already common aside, how can the East learn from the West? What religious lessons can Western cultures take from Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.?
Learning from the East for the West
Avoid Overindulgence, Focus on Inner Growth
While Westerners are all for personal growth, it is typically superficial. Career goals, relationship goals, personal goals, improving at their hobbies, etc., all take the lead. Development of consciousness and the soul is absent or takes a backseat.
Hinduism is largely regarded as the most accepting religion. It not only tolerates but embraces people of different faiths. Open-mindedness – while not a scriptural directive – is natural to Eastern religions.
Western seekers would do well not to simply abandon Christianity and/or Judaism and completely place their faith in Hinduism or Buddhism, as many are reactively doing so today.
Hinduism prescribes vegetarianism as the right way of living. Why harm other living creatures when vegetarian food can sustain you just as well? But tantric Hindu texts like Aghori involve practices like consuming human corpses to transcend the fear of death and cause radical transformation of the mind by subjecting it to seemingly intolerable practices.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a very famous Russian enlightened master. He was known to force non-drinkers to consume copious amounts of alcohol to break down their rigid ways of thinking and to prescribe frequent copulation to those that were previously celibate. On the other hand, those with drinking habits were asked to abstain, and sexually overactive or promiscuous students were prescribed celibacy.
Keeping an open mind is essential to spiritual evolution. Because it is the only way to learn. Our naturally enlightened state is one of openness and receptivity. Aspiring to such a state requires cultivating an open mind.
Practice Spirituality at Home, Not Just in a Church or Synagogue
Most religious Westerners, missionaries aside, tend to look to their Church and the Bible as the main source of spiritual growth.
In the East, spirituality is brought home in the form of rites, prayers, and meditation.
One need not make a shrine, but at least try to practice prayer and meditation at home. Christ has said, “the body is the temple of the holy spirit.” Your own soul is the closest thing to God, not your church, any tradition, or any religion.
Learning from the West for the East
Sex is not a sin
Even though the New Testament proclaims that having sex before marriage is a sin, Western culture has largely grown out of this narrow view. While promiscuity, fetishes, and other perversions are not altogether uncommon, casual sex between two consenting adults is commonplace and not frowned upon.
Sexual union harmonizes the male and female – yin & yang – energies for both partners. It is deeply healing and transformational. Sexual love and orgasm bring intense attention to an act of love. This is divine.
Modern Eastern cultures, even though Tantra is present in both Buddhism and Hinduism, consider sex a taboo topic. Here it is Easterners that should keep an open mind.
Emphasize Individuality and Personal Growth
Modern Easterners – not all but many – are lost in a sea of cultural collective consciousness. They rely heavily and fearfully on the popular opinion of friends, relatives, and the society they live in. Individual growth is encouraged only for career progression.
Emotional growth, learning things like hobbies, and mental growth from acquiring knowledge, has little place in modern Eastern society. While they may no longer be frowned upon, it is simply not part of the culture. And Easterners, in general, have also lost touch with the ancient ideal of pursuing spiritual growth that is their heritage.
Without spiritual evolution, man is as good as an animal, doomed to meaninglessness and suffering. While Western cultures might remain agnostic of this kind of personal growth, they at least pursue self-development as modern psychology prescribes.
It is greatly beneficial, amidst our complex world, myriad interactions, busy lives, and many relationships, to pursue personal growth. It aids and sets a foundation for spiritual growth. It develops individuality. Only a solid and firm individual can become enlightened and merge with the divine. One who has lost himself to the mind of the masses will remain an automaton.
Both Eastern and Western cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions have things to teach one another. They developed at different times and therefore help people overcome different kinds of hurdles.
For example, Eastern spiritual practices like Yoga and Meditation help cultivate pure consciousness, quietude of the mind, and balance of the mind-body-energy system.
Western spiritual practices focus on the growth of the soul and the spiritualization of society. Since man can’t live in a vacuum, a sensible, non-violent, and harmonious society is as important as internal peace and harmony.
Easterners can learn that sex is not a sin, meat is not necessarily bad, and that personal psychological and emotional growth are very important to accelerate spiritual development.
Westerners must learn to keep an open mind and mix-and-match learnings, teachings, and spiritual practices from various cultures and traditions to find what best suits them. They must also realize that spirituality is not only about morality and charity or about attending church or synagogue. Meditation and prayer must be practiced at home and in daily activities to achieve a state of self-realization or God-realization.
Even the Christian ideal of salvation from sin can’t be achieved simply by spending on charities and attending church. Spirituality must become a way of life.
Be open to any religion or spiritual teaching, or tradition that could potentially help you on your journey as a seeker. I have moved this to the end as one of the conclusions.
You may also point out the difference between religion and spirituality in the beginning. Many westerners do not have the distinction clear.
Also that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life, in that sense it is slightly out of the periphery of religions and can’t be truly compared.
You may refer to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San%C4%81tana_Dharma